Former Employees File Whistleblower Lawsuit Against Air District

August 16, 2017 10:00 am · 24 comments

Two former employees of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District have filed a wrongful termination lawsuit claiming they were fired after refusing to participate in the illegal destruction of documents critical to monitoring air quality and enforcing regulations, their attorneys said today.

Michael Bachmann was an IT manager responsible for document and record retention. He had worked with the district for more than 16 years, according to his lawyers.

Steele was an assistant assigned to his team, which was working on an electronic file and software program for the district’s records.

The two allegedly witnessed the destruction of records in violation of state and federal law, as well as district policy.

Bachmann and Steele say they tried to preserve the records and brought their concerns to upper management, but district leadership instructed them to return the records for destruction, according to their
attorneys.

They say the documents in question indicated that there had been significant reductions in fines by the district’s legal and enforcement divisions.

“When Michael and Sarah refused to participate in the illegal destruction of vital public records, the District alleged charges of minor policy violations – policy violations that Michael did not commit – and fired
them both,” attorney Eustace de Saint Phalle said in a statement.

District officials declined to comment on the lawsuit filed today, but referred questions on the matter to a statement issued in February, after Bachmann and Steele held a press conference on the matter, stating that the data which was allegedly destroyed is available in electronic format and available for public review.

“For nearly 30 years the Air District has retained information in an electronic database for all notices of violation, facility complaints, investigation documents and correspondence,” district officials said in the
statement. “All allegations were thoroughly investigated by an independent, third party investigator and were determined to be false and without merit.”

1 Sacto Rob August 16, 2017 at 10:19 AM

“All allegations were thoroughly investigated by an independent, third party investigator (THAT WE PAID FOR) and were determined to be false and without merit.”
Hey, it’s just the air we breathe. No big deal, right?

2 Kentucky Derby August 16, 2017 at 10:35 AM

I have a lot of respect for whistle blowers (doing the right thing) but it wouldn’t be me. It’s not worth it. You can either destroy yourself personally or professionally or be fired.

If I was ever faced with the choice of acting unethically (by force) or “coming clean” – I’d go with neither. I’d re-do my resume and find another position in my profession before I was literally destroyed. NO company is worth it – regardless of how loyal you are.

There is no such thing as “job security” and it saddens me that we all have to keep our eyes and ears open, and keep our mouths shut. The truth hurts.

3 The Mamba August 16, 2017 at 11:02 AM

Hi, I’m never listening to the Air District again, they can go to hell.

4 Strad August 16, 2017 at 11:13 AM

State bureaucrats are very powerful and well connected , you always have to watch you step.

5 BAAQMD Hater August 16, 2017 at 11:32 AM

Nothing to worry about. I’m sure Lord Broadbent is looking out for all of us peons.

6 Savage August 16, 2017 at 11:36 AM

Lets disband this made up scam of a government agency now.

7 pac islander August 16, 2017 at 11:36 AM

Another reason that group needs to be disbanded…

8 Anon Today August 16, 2017 at 12:36 PM

The whole “whistleblower” protection thing is a scam designed to identify and do a complete background search on the said whistleblower in order to destroy their lives or get them to recant.

That being said – Yes, the unelected BAAQMD is in bed with special interests. Spend the Money and you can Pollute as much as you like.

9 XlibXDem August 16, 2017 at 3:54 PM

I agree that the BAAQMD is just another useless agency that is now controlled by the radical left, and is promoting their social agendas.
What good have they done other than nag us citizens about having a holiday fire, or telling us we can’t drive to work!

10 Cloud maker August 16, 2017 at 4:35 PM

BAAQMD is a useless agency. They need to go. While I am all for saving our planet, they seemed pretty clueless on what is going on in the rest of ourstate. It slways makes me laugh when they send out an alert not to ” polite”, but at the same time we are surrounded by big polluters! I call them cloud makers.
I just have my doubts about this whole story; it always amazes me when employees think they need to save the world. Good grief, just do your damn job. Correct me if I am wrong, but I am sure either one looked for another job, hoping to rake in the big bucks from this lawsuit. I truly detest people that just sue.

11 Kenji August 16, 2017 at 4:40 PM

The BAAQMD’s Board of Directors consists entirely of elected officials. http://www.baaqmd.gov/about-the-air-district/board-of-directors

12 RunnerDope August 16, 2017 at 6:28 PM

Kenji,

I think most of the posters here would rather believe their alternative facts.

13 Hope Johnson August 16, 2017 at 7:21 PM

@Kenji
They are not elected to that body and the public has little control over which elected rep will sit on which board. It has become a real problem with these district/area plan bodies rubber stamping local control away.

14 Mary Fouts August 16, 2017 at 11:07 PM

@Kenji – What? Apparently you don’t know, or otherwise can’t understand, the difference from an appointed board, as is the BAAQMD , and an elected board, such as the County Board of Supervisors. I find that head shaking, and only serves to confirm my decision, as an everyday bicycle rider, to not support your bicycle coalition. Appears you don’t have a clue. Get a clue, and perhaps you will gather more public support.

15 J. August 17, 2017 at 1:27 AM

@Kenji
They are elected to a position in their area, like Mayor, which then qualifies them to be appointed to the board.

16 dinkydau August 17, 2017 at 8:25 AM

I will BBQ my ribs and brisket on a clean air day. Really dont care about the Clean Air Nazi’s patrolling neborhoods looking for violators.

17 Kentucky Derby August 17, 2017 at 9:45 AM

Kenji is correct. The BAAQMD’s Board of Director’s does consist entirely of elected officials. He never said they’re elected to the Board. He’s providing a link advising that the Board consists of elected officials from nine counties.

18 Shoulda Coulda August 17, 2017 at 10:34 AM

@ Cloudmaker

Maybe if some employees had spoken up we
wouldn’t be paying billions to clean up numerous
toxic waste sites like Love Canal. How about knowing
earlier of the drinking water fiasco in Flint Michigan.
If everyday people can’t help save the world I’m
worried that you think our government agencies
will do It for us. How is that working for you?

19 Kenji August 17, 2017 at 5:07 PM

@Hope #14 – It’s true, BAAQMD Board Directors are not elected to that position by the public. However, a lot of people seem to be under the incorrect impression that they are not elected by the public at all.

The issue you raise about local planning bodies rubber-stamping local control is the opposite of a grievance I’ve heard expressed by others: that these bodies (CCTA, TRANSPAC, BAAQMD) override local control. Your view on this one makes more sense to me, as the governing Boards of these bodies consist entirely of local elected officials (which was the point of my previous comment).

@Mary Fouts #15 – As you rightly point out, the CCC Board of Supervisors differs from the BAAQMD in that Supervisors are elected by the public to that position in particular, and BAAQMD Board Directors are not elected to that position in particular.

However, it’s not quite accurate to call BAAQMD an appointed board, since no one can sit on the BAAQMD Board unless they occupy a position to which they were elected by the public (as a City Councilmember, County Supervisor, etc.).

By contrast, Concord’s Planning Commission (for instance) is an appointed board in the sense that a person can sit on it merely by appointment (by Concord City Council) without having been elected by the public in any capacity.

I’m sorry you are disclined to support Bike Concord. Of course that is your prerogative. We hope you will benefit from improved bicycling conditions here in Concord over the next several years, whatever your feelings about Bike Concord. And if your bicycle needs any small repairs, please feel free to drop by at BC’s free repair tent at the Todos Santos Farmers’ Market any Thursday evening. 🙂

20 ClaireB August 17, 2017 at 8:36 PM

Thanks for the insight everyone. Btw, love Bike Concord. They are an exceptional group of extremely hard working and dedicated people. Very impressed with their positivity and teamwork to make their city more accessible (and fun!) for all kinds of people.

21 Hope Johnson August 17, 2017 at 10:31 PM

Kenji – My post says the boards are taking local control away so you’ve misread the meaning, and we agree on that point.

The problem with defining “elected” as being voted into some office somewhere at some point is that these boards are created by legislation, not the voters, with the intent that they will be filled by appointment, not the voters. They are then tasked with creating policy or enforcement, etc., that typically has not been voted on by the public and then provided a whole staff, who are not elected, that makes recommendations on how the policy should be implemented, etc. It is moving governance ever farther away from the control of the voting public and making it more and more difficult to hold the elected people accountable.

It’s a tactic used here in the Bay Area to force an agenda on the public by appointing only those who will agree with the status quo. Just have a look at the history of ABAG and the MTA, which are forcing local communities to pretend they all have them same needs and can handle all the same traffic. The MTA has grown so out of control that it has crushed ABAG and taken over some of its duties. Now the unelected are bodies are changing each other outside of even the elected legislature! Sadly, many of the bicycle advocates support this style of “unelected” regulation to avoid tangling with the driving voters. The fact that BAAQMD would shred records and fire whistleblowers demonstrates how removed it thinks it is from accountability.

Also, Concord’s Planning Commission is not a regulatory agency like BAAQMD. The Planning Commission makes recommendations to the Council, it does not adopt or enforce policies like BAAQMD. That’s a big difference between the authority of those two bodies.

It’s deceptive to try to equate a body that is made up of elected members with a body that is made up of appointed members who happen to have been elected to some other completely different body or position. Nothing more than semantics.

22 Kenji August 17, 2017 at 11:42 PM

Hope, we agree that the difference between 1) electing officials to a decision-making body and 2) electing officials who are then appointed to a different decision-making body is important. I think the difference between #2 and 3) officials being appointed to a decision-making body without having been elected at all is also important. Don’t know whether we agree or disagree there. It matters that if an official on CCTA or BAAQMD sufficiently displeases voters, they can lose their seat by losing an election. That is not trivial.

23 Kenji August 17, 2017 at 11:46 PM

And I hope that when you talk about “many of the bicycle advocates”, you don’t mean to insinuate something about Bike Concord without having to substantiate the allegation about us specifically. We are a specific group of Concord residents. Whatever you may have experienced with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition when you lived in that city, Bike Concord is a different group of people.

24 Rebecca August 18, 2017 at 7:44 AM

The fact that the BAAQMD board is made up of elected officials is far more than a semantic point. I’ve attended many BAAQMD meetings to talk about refinery regulations and tar sands, and many of my public comments have been about their obligations as our elected officials to protect our health and safety.

The greatest problem I’ve observed at BAAQMD is overreliance on staff, who are unelected and not accountable to the public. This is a problem that can arise at any level of government, and the best antidote to it is for voters to show our representatives that we’re paying attention and won’t tolerate that kind of laziness.

By the way, Concord’s rep at the air district is Supervisor Mitchoff. You can contact her at her local office about BAAQMD issues. Martinez’s Mark Ross is also on the board.

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